Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Misery. Loss. A sense of futility, as if nothing you ever do matters, or ever will. I am talking, of course, about videogames. Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve found games an essential source of comfort from the real world of late. We all play games to relax, and escape – or so we think. With the world outside such a relentless source of anxiety and misery, the games on my consoles’ hard drives no longer feel like enough of a break from the norm. This is a matter of setting, admittedly –
The Last Of Us feels like a training program these days – and also of tradition. Games began in the arcades; designed not just to test reflexes, but also empty wallets. At least modern games ease you in with tutorials, mix up the pace a bit to let you catch your breath, and – in most cases, at least – do not base their design on the need to make more money out of you. Yet still, stress, pain and the fear of loss are the bloody, beating heart of almost every game on the market.
Destiny is a curious case in point, because 90 per cent of the time it’s one of the most relaxing games I play. Power creep over the game’s life means I’m now over-levelled for most of Destiny’s activities, and I can happily spend an evening trotting around a mission I know like the back of my hand, chatting to my pals. Bungie’s Luke Smith describes
Destiny perfectly as “the bar I can go to in my pyjamas and shoot the shit with my friends”. But every so often something comes along that wrenches you out of your comfort zone, punches you in the face for four hours, and leaves you wondering why you bother. This week it was a challenge-mode spin on a raid boss fight that only required a few tweaks to our normal strategy, but involved hours of teeth-gnashing failure. The easy harmony of the nightly party chat strains as people start pointing fingers, scapegoating, the volume levels rising until people are shouting over each other just to be heard, none saying much of use. We’ve all had far too much of that lately.
The difference, and the reason games feel more important to me than ever, is that throughout the countless evenings lost to failure, as players we know that we shall overcome. That practice and teamwork will deliver us to victory and sweet, sweet loot. This year, nation-defining votes have been won on the questionable promise of regaining control – but in games, control is the constant, the blame only ever your own, triumph only ever a matter of persistence. In the real world, power is largely a myth. In games, we can all ascend to the ranks of the one per cent.
Games also give us control over the type of stress we subject ourselves to, and how we choose to engage with it. A friend tells me that the Souls series’ PVP invasions get his blood pumping and sphincter clenching like nothing else in games; he wins more than he loses, but even when things aren’t going his way he enjoys every second of a fight. Personally I find FromSoftware’s games oppressive and intimidating enough as they are, thank you very much. Rather than setting my pulse racing, the invasion message invites in me a slump of the shoulders, a roll of the eyes and a sprint back to the nearest bonfire, so that when death inevitably comes I’ll only be a few steps from my bloodstain when I respawn. What can I say? Souls games bring out my inner wuss. I’d inch round real-world corners with my shield up too, if I actually had one, and wasn’t worried about looking weird.
Perhaps it’s not the case that games are escapism, as such, but catharsis: the zombie massacre unwinding us from a dreary commute, a game of Street Fighter helping blow off steam after work. Maybe we play them not to forget our problems, but to confront and process them. If that’s the case then we need them more than ever – and within them I already find new meaning.
Watch Dogs 2’ s portrayal of minority youth betrayed by the system designed to protect them suddenly feels perfectly timed. In the middle of an outer-space dogfight in Infinite
Warfare I find myself tracing a narrative line back to current events, and it no longer feels so much like science fiction. No doubt developers and scriptwriters will soon begin work on games that more literally reflect the current state of the world, but they don’t really need to. The thematic notion of a nearfuture dystopia, so beloved of people who make games, feels a whisker away from reality. You really want to offer me escapism? Give me a game where everyone’s nice.
I’d inch round real-world corners with my shield up too, if I had one, and wasn’t worried about looking weird
When he’s not in his garden marking out the dimensions of an underground shelter, Nathan Brown is Edge’s deputy editor